Welcome to the latest edition of “Spring Review.” Today, we’ll take a look at the defensive line and tell you who came out ahead, which lineman still has work to do and what you can expect for fall camp.
The Northern Illinois defensive line was one of the positions hit hardest by graduation. NIU lost first round draft pick Larry English, defensive end Craig Rusch and defensive tackle Alex Krutsch. That’s three starters and one huge loss in the two-time MAC MVP English.
NIU coach Jerry Kill often said during spring ball that you don’t replace a player like English; you try and get two players to fill the void. Brandon Bice will be one of those players Kill counts on to try and pick up where English left off. Bice, a third-team All-MAC defensive end from a season ago, came out and performed pretty well throughout the spring while working on minor things to improve his pass-rush technique.
Jake Coffman, who impressed the coaches at the Independence Bowl, is another player NIU will count on at defensive end.
On the inside, Mike Krause has established himself as a starter at nose guard and D.J. Pirkle has done the same at defensive tackle. Sophomore Adam Coleman and redshirt freshman Brian Lawson continued to improve over the course of the 15 spring practices.
Most improved: D.J. Pirkle
Pirkle was already in line to start with Krutsch leaving, but Pirkle left no doubt that the job was his and he was going to do plenty with it. Pirkle explodes out of his stance and routinely finds ways to get to the quarterback or tip a pass. He is the most improved player on the defensive side of the ball and capped his spring with a tackle for loss and two pass breakups at the spring preview.
Need to see more: Sean Progar-Jackson
Jackson finally started to come around in the final week of practice. However, when your main job is to rush the passer, and you can’t find a way to do it on a consistent basis, there’s a lot more work left to be done. The door is wide open for the pass-rush specialist that NIU really needs to be successful on defense, and Jackson can be the player to do that, but he needs to improve his technique and his footwork.
Huskie Wire post-spring depth chart:
DE: Jake Coffman (junior), Kyle Jenkins (junior), Darnell Bolding (junior)
NG: Mike Krause (junior), Brian Lawson (redshirt freshman)
DT: D.J. Pirkle (junior), Adam Coleman (sophomore)
DE: Brandon Bice (senior), Sean Progar-Jackson (redshirt freshman)
Next Spring Review: Linebackers